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Jhoulys Chacín, the trendsetter

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, August 9, 2021

If the Rockies were looking to shape a postseason-ready bullpen, Jhoulys Chacín would be a perfect fit.

Since the calendar turned to July, Chacín has not pitched more than two innings in a game. He hasn’t allowed a run since June, and currently rides a 12-inning scoreless streak. He’s battled through multiple week-long stretches without an appearance, an extended stint on the COVID list, and a transition from starter, to long reliever, to short reliever—all in a matter of months.

Not bad for a converted starter that looked to be on his last rope this spring.

The Trendsetter: Changing With the Times

Chacín pitched for the New York Yankees in spring training exhibitions. He was a 33-year-old depth option, but was ultimately not considered for the Yankees roster when they released him in late March. The Rockies jumped in, a whole day prior to Opening Day, and protected their pitching assets while Kyle Freeland began the year on the injured list.

At the beginning of the year, Colorado’s top long relief options were Chi Chi González and Dereck Rodríguez. Neither of them were tendered contracts at the end of 2020. González made starts on the mound to begin the year with Freeland out from injury, while Rodríguez began the year in Triple-A.

Chacín was placed in the Colorado bullpen, but his appearances were few and far between. Going a week without pitching was not uncommon for the right-hander.

He’s now dominating as a short reliever. He’s been dominating anything thrown his way, and that includes his return from the COVID list. Chacín has displayed adaptability under an ever-changing role.

His performance in the month of July and August have sparked a conversation: Are starters-turned relievers the strongest bullpen investments?

The Trendsetter: Postseason-Ready Bullpens

Chacín has collected over nine years of MLB service. 227 of his 282 big league appearances have been starts, and he holds a 1.46 ERA in the postseason.

The Rockies are paying Chacín an even $1 million for his services this year. That equates to 0.88% of their yearly payroll.

Wade Davis took up 11.45% of the Rockies’ payroll in 2019.

Bullpens are volatile. Big investments in the bullpen can be disastrous. Chacín could embody the next wave of bullpen signings, and could in turn give big league contenders a much-needed taste of veteran leadership during the tightest moments of a game.

It’s no mistake the Dodgers have also given Cole Hamels $1 million this year. There isn’t room for him in their current pitching rotation, but there is definitely room for him to become the next Chacín in blue, should Dave Roberts put him in the bullpen like he did with David Price.

Hamels was a World Series MVP in 2008. If the Dodgers designate the lefty to the bullpen, It’s safe to reason he’ll have a pretty calm heart rate in an often-volatile role.

The Trendsetter: Veteran Leadership

The Rockies have the worst bullpen ERA in baseball right now (5.45), They rank 30th in FIP (4.91), 27th in xFIP (4.71), and 29th in bWAR (-0.2).

As a reliever, Chacín’s 4.08 ERA is the best in the current bullpen. The only relievers ahead of him have been either traded (Mychal Givens), demoted to Triple-A (Zac Rosscup), or are currently injured (Jordan Sheffield).

On August 4, Danielle Allentuck of the Colorado Springs Gazette wrote “Chacín is near-perfect when it comes to predicting what reliever will enter a game.” While younger relievers will listen in with amusement, “Chacín, a veteran of the league, just rolls his eyes.”

The Trendsetter: Any Time, Any Place

It’s been improbable for the Rockies to preserve a lead at times, but perhaps more improbable is the way they acquired their top arms in the bullpen. The team lucked out with the success of Jordan Sheffield, a Rule 5 pickup from the Dodgers last winter. They turned the closer reigns over to Daniel Bard and he earned NL Comeback Player of the Year honors last year. An expanded 2020 postseason was motivation for the Rockies to haul in Mychal Givens at last year’s trade deadline.

The optimism quickly soured in 2021. Sheffield landed on the 60-day IL. Givens was shipped to Cincinnati at the trade deadline. Even Yency Almonte, the team’s second-best reliever in 2020 (by bWAR), saw his ERA jump into double digits.

Chacín persevered through Freeland’s return from injury, pitching at the mercy of how deep the rotation would go. He perservered through Jon Gray’s placement on the IL and the ever-changing role of Chi Chi González. Chacín saw a lot of time between appearances as a big his long reliever role and his placement on the COVID list, and was forced to embrace an ‘anything goes’ approach after the Yankees tabbed him as a disposable veteran.

He’s become an indispensable short reliever—and could set the tone for MLB bullpens to follow.

Carrying the Trend

Chacín is far from the first reliever to find new success after a career as a starter. Some of these arms may have seen shorter careers if they kept with the rigors of starting, but they have found newfound success—and longevity—by entering games as a reliever

Liam Hendricks - Chicago White Sox

  • Started 34 of his first 39 big league games
  • Made the AL All-Star team, current AL leader in saves

Joe Kelly - Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Pitched exclusively as a starter in 2014 and 2015 (42 games)
  • 224 of his last 225 appearances have been as a reliever
  • Won World Series in 2018 and 2020

Drew Pomeranz - San Diego Padres

  • Over 90% of his appearances were starts in 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017
  • Transitioned to full-time reliever in 2020, posting his two lowest ERA figures of his career in 2020 and 2021

Dennis Eckersley - Oakland Athletics

  • Pitched as a starter for Cleveland/Boston/Chicago NL from 1975-1986
  • Transitioned to full-time reliever with Oakland in 1987
  • Won the 1992 AL MVP award (51 saves, 1.91 ERA)

Wade Davis - Kansas City Royals

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Author’s note: Thank you to Luke Hall (@OakTreeStatus) for launching the discussion for this topic on Twitter:

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Miami Marlins’ Lewis Brinson, after reviewing video, says he hears Rockies fan using slur but is open to mascot explanation | ESPN

The Rockies remained in the national spotlight on Monday following comments by a fan during Sunday’s contest. The club released a statement saying they “concluded that the fan was indeed yelling for Rockies mascot Dinger in hopes of getting his attention for a photo, and there was never any racial slur that occurred.” Miami’s Lewis Brinson spoke on the matter before a Monday game in San Diego.

Rockies first baseman C.J. Cron named NL Player of the Week

In case you missed it: C.J. Cron was crowned NL Player of the Week after his total domination of the Marlins and Cubs. He has slashed an inconceivable .556/.636/1.278 in his last five games.

On the farm

A three-RBI performance by Colton Welker and Ryan Vilade helped lift the Isotopes over the Triple-A Dodgers on Monday night. Vilade blasted a two-run homer in the seventh inning, and a six-run eighth was the deciding factor for an Albuquerque win. The Isotopes recorded more runs (11) than they did hits (10).

Ryan Castellani made a 4 1/3-inning start, allowing two earned runs on seven hits, three walks and six strikeouts. Zac Rosscup, recently returned to Albuquerque, allowed a solo home run in the eighth inning that raised his Triple-A ERA to a still-impeccable 0.87.

Julian Fernández, one day removed from popping a 103 on the radar gun, tossed a scoreless seventh with two strikeouts.

Justin Lawrence was called upon for the ninth in a low-leverage 11-3 game. He finished the contest but allowed three earned runs on three hits.

Player to Watch: Utility man LJ Hatch is now 4-for-7 in his last three games with five RBIs, three runs scored and a triple. The 27-year-old made the jump from High-A to Triple-A on July 10 and has posted a 389./436/.611 slash in Albuquerque this year (36 at-bats). Hatch was a JUCO bandit from Johnson County Community College (KS), and transferred to New Mexico State for two seasons. He initially signed with the Rockies as an undrafted free agent.

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